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NCAA Basketball Pittsburgh Panthers

5 Reasons Why the Pittsburgh Panthers are Undefeated

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Pittsburgh Panthers are 9-0: 5 Reasons Why

Pittsburgh Basketball
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SPORTS

It's been a perfect start to the college basketball season for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pittsburgh has won all nine of its games this season, and will try to go 10-0 when it hosts the Youngstown State Penguins at noon Saturday in a game that will be available for streaming on ESPN3.

Pittsburgh's success to start the season is due to a number of factors, many of which should be key to the Panthers being successful in this their first season as a member of the ACC. Like the Syracuse Orange and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Pittsburgh left the Big East at the end of last season to join the ACC, making the league a 15-team super conference that will also welcome the Louisville Cardinals next season

A combination of Pittsburgh's traditional strong defense, solid contributions by several freshmen, balanced minutes and scoring led by 6-foor-5 senior guard/forward Lamar Patterson, the rebounding of 6-9 senior forward Talib Zanna, and the experience and poise of head coach Jaime Dixon has guided the Panthers to their unbeaten start.

Many challenges await Pittsburgh when conference play begins January 4 at the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Even before that, the Panthers face a difficult game against the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 17. Pittsburgh will play old rival Syracuse twice during the conference schedule. But the Panthers also catch a couple scheduling breaks this season, since they only have to play the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils once each. Pittsburgh also only has to play one game against Notre Dame.

Here's a closer look at the reasons for Pittsburgh's perfect start to the season.

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5. Pittsburgh Benefits from Experienced Head Coach Jamie Dixon

Jamie Dixon
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon has been a consistent winner since taking over the Panthers prior to the 2003-04 season. With a record of 225 wins and just 60 losses at Pittsburgh, Dixon's record is as respectable as just about any in Division I college basketball. While a perceived lack of NCAA Tournament success causes Dixon to have his share of detractors, the truth is Dixon has won at least 20 games every season he's been at Pittsburgh, and he's won at least 25 in every season but one. Notable for this first season in the ACC, Dixon's Panthers have won at least 10 games in conference play every season that he has been the head coach. This year's team is 9-0 and has only two seniors on the roster.

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4. Pittsburgh Always Plays Tough Defense

Pittsburgh Defense
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SPORTS

Rugged defense has been the trademark of the Pittsburgh Panthers for many years. So far in the 2013-14 season, this Panthers team has been no different. In nine games, Pittsburgh is allowing opponents to score only 60.3 points per game. The Panthers held their first five opponents to 58 points or less. With Pittsburgh scoring 81.7 points per game, their defensive work has led to a margin of victory of at least 17 points in every single game this season.

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3. Lamar Patterson Leads Panthers in Scoring

Lamar Patterson
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Panthers senior guard/forward Lamar Patterson, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Lancaster, Pa., leads the Panthers in scoring at 16.2 points per game. He is also getting the most minutes of anyone on the team, at a modest 28.4 per game. Patterson leads the way for a team that has four players scoring in double figures. Nine Panthers average at least 13 minutes per game, giving Pittsburgh a balanced attack. Head coach Jamie Dixon has also been able to spread the minutes around since the Panthers are usually up by a healthy margin late in games. Patterson is dangerous inside and out, and has hit 16-of-38 three-pointers this season, good for 42.1 percent.

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2. Talib Zanna is the Top Rebounder

Zanna
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Senior forward Talib Zanna is the leading rebounder for the Pittsburgh Panthers, averaging seven boards per game. That may not seem like a gaudy number, but Zanna is a force in the low post. He is also scoring 13 points per game and choosing his shots wisely enough to be hitting nearly 65 percent from the field. Led by Zanna, Pittsburgh is 60th in the nation in rebounding (of 340+ teams). Zanna is also reliable with the ball in the post, having turned the ball over just 11 times in nine games.

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1. Freshmen are Contributing to Pittsburgh Panthers' Success

Freshmen
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

An underlying factor in the 9-0 start for the Pittsburgh Panthers has been that this is a young team. With only two seniors, head coach Jamie Dixon has had to rely on underclassmen in key spots and they are contributing. Freshmen forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young have combined to post a little better than 12 points and nine rebounds per game for the Panthers. Artis is shooting 57 percent from the field. Five Pittsburgh freshmen (to also include Josh Newkirk, Chris Jones, and Joshua Ko) have combined to average 20.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game this season.